“I believe having a vision of what you are looking to achieve, and remaining true to it, is a big part of good leadership. Circumstances are going to evolve and change, and having a certain flexibility and adaptability is also important- things don’t always go according to plan.”
Faisal Al Bannai is perhaps best known for being the founder of Axiom Telecom, a US$2.2 billion company established in 1997 that is today the official regional distributor for some of the most prominent electronic consumer brands in the world- and it is probably this distinction that makes most of us curious about his latest venture, DarkMatter. As the CEO of DarkMatter, Al Bannai leads a team of cyber security specialists providing “secure, trusted and integrated protection services” for individuals, enterprises and governments. According to Al Bannai, with cyber security having become a critical issue for protecting nations and their digital assets, DarkMatter is uniquely positioned to provide for this particular need, especially in the Middle East region. “At DarkMatter, we believe that for this region to continue growing economically and socially, we needed to provide cyber security expertise, right here in the region, under one umbrella,” Al Bannai says. “This is DarkMatter’s mandate, creating a company with the vision to become an international cyber security powerhouse headquartered in the UAE, with tier one global security experts based in the country. DarkMatter is already a trusted cyber security partner to the UAE Government and other clients, and we develop our own intellectual property, as well as partner with vetted global technology companies to develop cyber security products, solutions and services.”
It’s interesting to note here that while Al Bannai is undoubtedly one of the most successful Emirati entrepreneurs around in the country, he claims that Axiom Telecom’s success does not add any undue pressure in terms of his aspirations and goals for DarkMatter. “I am no longer the CEO of Axiom Telecom; I am the company’s Managing Director now,” Al Bannai says. “This allows me to focus the majority of my time on being the CEO of Dark Matter, and my past is not a pressure point at all. DarkMatter is a new business in a new area for me, and I enjoy being back on a learning curve. It is an opportunity that allows me to bring my previous expertise in building a multinational organization, and combine it with engaging global experts who have vast experience in cyber security.” But with Al Bannai now back on the starting up stage of a company, he’s had to deal with some of the expected hurdles that come with being an entrepreneur today in this region. “One obvious challenge is recruiting the best talent,” he says. “There is a shortage of cyber security expertise globally, and so, to identify the best talent and have them join us in a competitive environment continues to be something that we are having to work exceedingly hard to achieve.”
With this being the case, how exactly has Al Bannai dealt with this particular issue? “Beyond offering competitive remuneration, we have found out that the one factor that pushes top talent to work for DarkMatter above other international cyber security firms is the fact that the work they are involved in has nation-scale implications,” he explains. “Our projects and engagements are fundamental, and the impact of the work we are undertaking is set to be felt for years and decades to come. DarkMatter is working at a national level to advise on the development of regulations and frameworks, and we are delivering solutions that are being deployed in critical areas with a fundamental impact on security. Motivated people are attracted to that. They want to be a part of doing something that has never been done before, and which is important.” This response is indicative of Al Bannai’s leadership ethos, by the way- according to him, for an enterprise to innovate and succeed, it’s important that its leader be able to inspire its people. “Innovation is about inspiration, and should a business leader have a vision, and should he/she be able to motivate others to believe in the vision and work towards it, I believe he/she stands a greater chance of success,” Al Bannai says. “A fine example of inspiration is the leadership of the UAE, and how they continue to inspire growth and innovation in the country.”
Ask The Exec: Faisal Al Bannai
The Q In terms of opportunities available in the market today for entrepreneurs in the Middle East, is now a good time to start a business in this region?
The A “I think the Middle East region, and more specifically, the UAE, is a fantastic place in which to establish a business. We have institutions in place that ensure the environment is a safe and progressive one in which to do business, while at the same time, we still have an emerging market mentality that makes us strive higher. I believe that opportunities exist across sectors, as many economies in the region look to move away from a dependency on income from fossil fuels. All I advise any budding entrepreneur is to research the opportunity thoroughly before embarking on it, as well as looking to have sufficient sources of funding in place.”